Tuesday, February 12, 2019

MN 111 Bhikkhu Analayo, circular reasoning and red herrings

Bhikkhu Anālayo EBMS:
Nevertheless, in what follows I will take a closer look at the Anupada-sutta to see if the discourse, even if it should only reflect later ideas of its Theravāda reciters, does imply that insight into impermanence is to be practiced while one is immersed in an absorption. Here is the description of the insight contemplation undertaken by Sāriputta in relation to the first absorption (leaving the factor vitakka without translation for the time being, as I will discuss its significance later on): The states in the first absorption were determined by him one by one: vitakka, [sustained] application, joy, happiness, mental unification, contact, feeling, perception, volition, mind,22 desire, determination, energy, mindfulness, equipoise, and attention. Known these states arise, known they remain, known they disappear. He understood thus: ‘Indeed, in this way these states, which have not been, come into being; having been, they disappear.’ Not being in favor of or against these states, he dwelled being independent, without being bound to them, being freed from them, being released from them, with a mind that is without confines. He understood: ‘There is an escape beyond this.’23 According to the above description in the Anupada-sutta, “known these states arise, known they remain, known they disappear”, viditā uppajjanti, viditā upaṭṭhahanti, viditā abbhatthaṃ gacchanti. This provides an important indication for a proper appreciation of the discourse, which clearly depicts a mode of contemplation where Sāriputta is aware of these states arising and, after they have remained for a while, he is also aware when they disappear. To cultivate such awareness of these mental qualities arising and disappearing while being in an absorption is impossible, because the very presence of these qualities is required for there to be an absorption in the first place and for it to continue being a state of absorption.24 The formulation used in the discourse makes it clear that the passage does not intend to refer to the momentary change of mental qualities. The Anupada-sutta clearly specifies that Sāriputta observes the arising of mental qualities which “have not been, come into being”, ahutvā sambhonti, and he contemplates their disappearance when “having been, they disappear”, hutvā paṭiventi.25 The notion of momentariness, according to which phenomena pass away on the spot at every moment, is in fact a relatively late development in Buddhist thought.26 It can safely be set aside as not forming the backdrop of the early discourses. So when these states have not yet come into being or disappear, a practitioner inevitably is not yet or no longer in the absorption, simply because the absorption lasts only as long as all of the mental qualities that characterize it are fully present. Therefore to observe the arising of these mental qualities and their disappearance could only happen before an absorption is attained or after the attainment has come to an end.
Several fallacies here. First, the circular reasoning highlighted is astounding.
Even a novice understands the concept, it's hard to believe Bhikkhu Anālayo is committing
that offense by accident or through incompetence. Since MN 111 is a particularly strong
case against his understanding of jhāna and (V&V💭) vitakka & vicāra, directed-thought & evaluation, there is strong motive here to disprove it by any means necessary. It's hard to believe the circular reasoning was not done intentionally, which would mean this is also an act of intellectual dishonesty.
Red herring: Second, the lateness of the Sutta, which he mentions several times even in just that short passage quoted, in an attempt to discredit the validty of the sutta, is not relevant. The relevant part of the sutta text, involving the "vidita vitakka uppajjanti" (known are vitakka as they arise), is part of the EBT (Early Buddhist Texts) standard definition of
(S&S🐘💭) sati & sam-pajāno, remembering & lucid-discerning.
(S&S🐘💭) is baked into the standard formula for third jhāna and fourth jhāna.
In fact, I've pointed this fact out many times to Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Anālayo in public forums which they actively participated at that time. I did not receive a response from them, so theoretically it's possible they did not read my message. But more likely, it's just a strategy to maintain plausible deniability. But even if we assume they truly did not see my messsages, the standard definition for (S&S🐘💭) sati & sam-pajāno, remembering & lucid-discerning is well known (see AN 4.41), as is the ubiquitous standard third jhāna formula. To not be aware of that, for professional EBT experts, would be gross negligence or incompetence, which is highly unlikely.
The circular reasoning Bhikkhu Anālayo uses is this:
He tries to redefine what absorption means (different than third jhāna for example), and then "prove" that the vipassana while in jhāna is impossible because to perceive a change in phenomena would break the state of absorption. This is circular. What he needs to prove (and he never does, because the evidence does not exist), with evidence from the EBT, is that absorption is as he tries to redefine it. He simply concludes that first jhāna can't be an absorption because it doesn't meet his redefinition of absorption. That is not proof. That is using an unproven assumption as the conclusion.
Circular reasoning
(wikipedia) (Latin: circulus in probando, "circle in proving";[1] also known as circular logic) is a logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with.[2] The components of a circular argument are often logically valid because if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Circular reasoning is not a formal logical fallacy but a pragmatic defect in an argument whereby the premises are just as much in need of proof or evidence as the conclusion, and as a consequence the argument fails to persuade. Other ways to express this are that there is no reason to accept the premises unless one already believes the conclusion, or that the premises provide no independent ground or evidence for the conclusion.
Examples of Circular Reasoning: The Bible is true, so you should not doubt the Word of God.
Red herring
(From Wikipedia)
A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue.[1] It may be either a logical fallacy or a literary device that leads readers or audiences towards a false conclusion. A red herring might be intentionally used, such as in mystery fiction or as part of rhetorical strategies (e.g., in politics), or it could be inadvertently used during argumentation.
The term was popularized in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, who told a story of having used a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to divert hounds from chasing a hare.

1 comment:

  1. Analayo's argument here indeed is tenuous.
    First, the lateness of MN111 is based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Second, to argue that MN111 has Abhidhammic elements is actually defeating his own purpose: late Abhidhamma has a tendency to posit that, since every moment of consciousness can only take up one single object, jhana (as a mental object) cannot coexist with another object (e.g. intention, energy, contact, and the other factors that MN111 lists). It is very odd that, if MN111 indeed is influenced by Abhidhamma reasoning, it would go against a very common late Abhidhamma assumption, which is to posit that jhana is a kind of singular absorption/trance that does not allow for reflection!
    Third, MN111 is hardly the only sutta that talks about insight in jhana. Its position that jhanas contain both calm and insight is the rule rather than the exception in the early Buddhist canon.